Training cats and dogs--opportunities for technicians in the practice setting (Proceedings)


Training cats and dogs--opportunities for technicians in the practice setting (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2010

The veterinary technician with an interest in behavior can help build and maintain a behavior practice within a general practice setting. Technicians are in an ideal position to promote behavior services. Clients will appreciate having a skilled person guide them through the treatment steps outlined by the veterinarian.

Before the wellness examination

It is standard practice for veterinary technicians to greet clients, take the TPR, and inquire regarding the nature of the visit. Some basic questions are routinely asked before the veterinarian begins the examination.
      Is your pet eating well?
      Any vomiting or diarrhea?
      Any coughing or sneezing?

This is the perfect time to add some standard behavior-related questions
     • How often does your dog need to go outside to eliminate?
     • How often does your cat's litter box need to be changed?
     • Where does your pet sleep at night?
     • Where do you leave your dog when you leave the house?

These questions can help uncover a potential problem behavior without suggesting that the dog is abnormal, or that the owner is doing something inappropriate. Once the owner understands you are interested in their pet's behavior, you may be more direct and ask, "Are there any behavioral concerns that you would like to discuss with the doctor?"

Remember, you don't know if you don't ask. Many clients experience behavioral concerns with their pets but are too embarrassed to mention them. They are concerned that they will be chastised. In some cases, people just assume that a behavior is simply normal and must be tolerated. Perhaps they were considering sending their cat to the shelter because they did not know that a litter box problem could be successfully treated.

Before the behavioral consultation

Once a behavior consultation has been scheduled, a detailed behavioral history will be needed. This history can be collected by the veterinary technician. There are many standardized history forms available, or your practice may use its own form. It can save time if clients bring the completed form to the consultation. Before the doctor begins the consultation, the technician can review the form with the client, highlighting any points that may be noteworthy,

During the consultation

After the behavioral assessment has been completed, the veterinarian will provide the client with a treatment plan. The technician can then summarize the doctor's notes, provide the necessary handouts, and demonstrate the treatment steps that have been outlined. The key to success of any behavior program is the correct application of the behavior modification techniques. Something as simple as inappropriate timing of reinforcement can lead to failure.

The behavior technician can also fit pets with leashes, harnesses, head collars or muzzles. Many clients need guidance helping their pets tolerate these devices. If the equipment is available at the hospital, then it can be fitted and dispensed at the time of the visit. Otherwise, the technician can schedule a return visit with the owner once the devices have been purchased.

In many cases, the veterinarian will determine that the pet is exhibiting normal albeit undesirable behavior. Dogs may simply be unruly, or cats may be resourceful. These patients will benefit from a training program that can be implemented by a qualified technician.

After the consultation

The key to successful management of behavior cases is in the follow-up. Client compliance in all fields of medicine is generally low. Left alone with an overwhelming treatment plan, clients will drop out. The problem may escalate and the pet may lose a home or even a life.

Regularly scheduled phone follow-up, or even email follow-up, will assure that the treatment is progressing as expected. Be sure that any medications are being administered correctly and that there have been no undesirable side effects. If there are any questions regarding the implementation of any particular steps, the technician can meet with the client and pet to observe and demonstrate. If there is any concern that the patient is responding abnormally, or that the behavior has unexpectedly escalated, then the patient should be rechecked by the veterinarian.

Ounce of prevention

Many clinics have enjoyed adding kitten and puppy socialization classes to their practice. Veterinary technicians can arrange and supervise these classes. If any problem behaviors are spotted, a behavior consultation can be scheduled. The prognosis is likely to be better if problems are addressed early, before inappropriate responses have been rewarded.

Special education

There are many opportunities to learn the skills needed to assist during behavior consultations. A good understanding of normal behavior and of learning theory are important. The Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians ( offers membership as well as a certification program for veterinary technicians.